April 30, 2014

Marvel unlikely to stick with ComiXology


Marvel might leave its deal with ComiXology now that it's owned by Amazon. ©rineca. Via Shutterstock.

Marvel might leave its deal with ComiXology now that it’s owned by Amazon.
©rineca. Via Shutterstock.

The world of digital comics  has been in something of an upheaval in recent weeks, with the hugely popular ComiXology platform being purchased by Amazon. Both parties insisted that the user experience wouldn’t change—only for a new version of the ioS app to debut, which doesn’t allow in-app purchases, sending users on an extra step to buy comics and cutting Apple out of the commission it’s previously received, as my esteemed colleague Sal Robinson discussed here.

Now, Michael Kozlowski writes for Good E-Reader, Marvel Comics is taking steps to give itself distribution options beyond ComiXology, which has been the platform of choice for the majority of digital comics readers. Marvel still has its own proprietary app that allows direct purchases, and which is “powered by ComiXology,” as Kozlowski puts it, and there shouldn’t be any further changes until the time comes for the publisher to renew its contract in 2015.

In addition to its dedicated app for buying and reading comics, Marvel has a Netflix-style subscription based app, Marvel Unlimited, that lets customers read as many comics as they want, provided that they were published more than six months ago. Vice President of Digital Products for Marvel Entertainment Kristin Vincent says that one has recently been overhauled, redesigned specifically for each operating system (iOs, Android, and online) with a simpler user interface. There’s also Marvel AR (augmented reality), which uses the camera in a phone or tablet to unlock additional content like animations, music, and commentary, for people who buy a hard copy of a comic.

Kozlowski posits that with the Amazon deal, Marvel will probably see a decrease in sales on the official ComiXology app, and that “Marvel is likely not going to renew their single issue contract,” which prevents them from selling individual issues directly. He continues:

Not being able to buy anything through the app will daunting for the average consumer. If Marvel does renew the digital agreement they are likely to add a provision for Comixology not to be solely responsible for single issue sales. It would be in the publishers [sic] best interest to sell and distribute the comics themselves for maximum profit.

But separating from the widely used platform won’t be an entirely smooth process. When Marvel signed its contract in 2012, it gave up its dedicated login system to ComiXology, meaning that the latter has a database of user credentials, and the former probably doesn’t — which would make it difficult for them to inform subscribers if they split off to handle all sales on their own.

If all this sounds a bit convoluted and unlikely to result in anything other than a headache for the consumer, don’t forget that digital comics are hardly the only option. There are still plenty of comic book stores out there, and this Saturday, many of them will be giving away books for free.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.